29 March 2010

John 12:1-8

"Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served and Lazarus was one of the those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair." (v.1-3)


In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus celebrated the Jewish festival of Passover before his arrest. However, in John's Gospel, Jesus' own death is presented as though he is the lamb slaughtered for Passover. Just as the Hebrews in Egypt (Exodus 12:21-27) were instructed to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so that the spirit of the Lord would pass over these homes and not strike down their first born, so the timing of the Passover in John's Gospel suggests that Jesus' blood has power to avert disaster in the face of the sins of the world.

This theological point is reinforced by John's setting of the story of the anointing of Jesus in the home of Lazarus. Although it is a story about anointing for burial, this is not a house of death - it is instead a house of resurrection, for it was here that Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb after three days (John 11:1-44).

Here, then, John places two more examples of an "illness that does not lead to death but is for God's glory" (see John 11:4). According to John, both the sick desire of the Jewish leaders to contrive Jesus' death (John 11:53) and the sickness of Judas Iscariot, thief and betrayer, whose cynical plans involved using the poor as an excuse for his own greed, would not in end in the death of all that was good, but would rather be caught up in God's purposes of life and redemption.

In this light, spending half a year's wages on anointing Jesus was not about ignoring the poor as this passage might seem to imply. It was about closely following the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Those, like Mary, who perceived this, had the poor's real interests at heart for they had learnt how to walk in the light (John 12:36).

To Ponder

How helpful do you find the image of Jesus as the slaughtered Passover lamb?

What images help you best to grasp the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus?

What do you think Jesus meant when he said, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me"? What implications does this meaning have for the life of Christian discipleship today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..